Huddled inside a tent, erected on a side street adjacent to New York City’s Fordham University, a gaggle of media types assembled to hear of Sun Microsystem’s announcement of a sophisticated microprocessor, an array of new systems, software and services optimized for the network, all which form the foundation of the company’s network computing strategy for the next five years.

Sun is hoping to capitalize on what they’ve dubbed the Net Effect by way of offering new products such as the UltraSPARC III microprocessor chip, its second generation, 64-bit architecture.

“This is a new concept in architectural design,” said John Loiacono, Sun’s senior vice-president and chief marketing officer, who evidently was suffering from a corporate identity crisis by repeatedly referring to Sun as Hewlett-Packard (HP). The tent walls flapped along with Loiacono’s recurring marketing identity faux pas.

Regardless, the UltraSPARC III chip is comprised of 29 million transistors, an embedded memory controller and 9.6Gbps address bus for massive scalability; support for a large 8MB Error Checking and Correcting (ECC)-protected external cache for minimal latency; and a new error isolation and correction Uptime Bus for high system reliability. Plus, it is guaranteed to be compatible with the entire SPARC processor line. Initially released at 900, 750 and 600MHz, publicly released roadmaps for the UltraSPARC III processor position the design as a GHz-class microprocessor. The application of advancing process technologies, including copper interconnect, indicate clock speeds in the 1.5GHz and more range when the UltraSPARC III processor reaches its full design potential.

“In 1995, we defined the architecture for the dot-com era,” boasted Ed Zander, Sun’s president and chief operating officer, after apologizing to the audience for the tent. “We’re building on our network concept, something called the Net Effect…If you think the Internet has had an impact on our lives, our businesses, our homes, our schools, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Zander explained the next two years for the world and for Sun will see a massive change over between wireless devices and Web products. Hence, Sun’s UltraSPARC III chip is an architecture that can scale like no other while the microprocessor’s first implementations come in the new Sun Blade 1000 workstations and the new Sun Fire 280R workgroup server. The Sun Blade systems – available in 750 and 900MHz versions with prices starting under US$10,000 – have a special entry-level configuration that is available only by on-line auction, with no minimum set bids.

“I don’t believe there is a company on the planet that is more focused,” Zander said of Sun. “Five years from now, we’ll have a bigger tent.”

Moreover, the UltraSPARC III chip delivers 9.6Gbps peak Processor-to-Interconnect address channel speeds, more than twice as much as previous UltraSPARC chips. The UltraSPARC III also runs on a 4.8GB/sec memory pathway.

that’s not all

But Sun wasn’t finished trotting out the goods just yet. The Sun Grid Engine software was also introduced as a means to bring the Net Effect to technical computing by allowing users to leverage the untapped computing resources available on their networks.

Figuring workstations are idle about 75 per cent of the time, the Sun Grid Engine harnesses the hundreds or thousands of computers on a specified network, thus enabling a user to access network-wide computing power to one desktop. The software can be downloaded for free via Sun’s Web site.

“Net Effects has some very deep and significant implications for the entire world in the computing space,” said Greg Papadopoulos, Sun’s senior vice-president and chief technology officer, before launching headlong into a breakdown of how the whole kit and caboodle begins with the developer. Using an overhead projector and a marker to sketch out a myriad of interconnecting graphics, Papadopoulos must have thought he was teaching a class of tech students with his time in the limelight. The audience appeared confused and bored and began to yammer amongst themselves as the lesson dragged on.

But Sun is indeed among the top of its class, as recent IDC figures showed the company has a stranglehold on the Internet infrastructure market with a 57 per cent slice of the pie, compared with 14.4 per cent for HP, 12.5 per cent for IBM, SGI holds onto 6.7 per cent market share, while Compaq sits at 4.2 per cent.

As John Shoemaker – Sun’s executive vice-president of systems products – took the stage further revelations were unveiled. The new, rack-mountable Sun Fire 280R server which is based on the UltraSPARC III processor, the Solaris 8 operating system, and the Sun Fire Plane interconnect technology. The Sun Fire 280R’s 8MB cache is 32 times that of Compaq’s DL380 and its ultra-fast interconnect technology is more than four times faster than the DL380 and more than twice as fast as HP’s A500, Sun said. The I/O performance of the Fire Plane interconnect at 4.8GB/sec makes it a viable Web, e-commerce or Internet gateway server. The system also offers more expandability with up to 8GB of memory, twice that of Compaq’s DL380 Intel-based servers. In addition, Sun is the only hardware vendor to bring two hot-swappable internal FC-AL (fibrechannel) disk drives to entry-level servers.

“We are the de facto infrastructure provider for the build out of the Internet,” Shoemaker said. “We are increasing the gap between ourselves and our key competitors (IBM and HP), they’ve both made a lot noise lately, but the bottom line is we kick their butts.”

Alan Freedman, an analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto, agreed Sun is kicking butt in the U.S. server market, but in Canada, HP leads the charge.

“Sun is keeping up their continued assault on Intel-based server vendors, they’re enabling Unix to run on an Internet infrastructure…Sun’s business model has them going after the service provider market worldwide, they have about 20 to 25 giant customers,” Freedman said. “They don’t speak to the end user and this bodes well in the U.S. But the Canadian service provider market is much smaller so Sun doesn’t have the explosion in growth. Hewlett-Packard is the leader in the Unix market in Canada.”

IDC Canada’s Oct. 4 release of a study on the Canadian server market stated HP Canada accounts for 37 per cent of the server market (less PC servers).

The report also heralded HP Canada as the top mid-range Unix server market segment with a 57 per cent market share, although they share the top spot in the overall Canadian server market with IBM at 29 per cent respectively (market share results tallied by revenue). Compaq sits at 15 per cent, Sun at 11 per cent, and Dell at five per cent as of Q2-2000.

“When Sun goes to refresh its mid- and high-range servers it’ll be big news,” Freedman added. “Sun’s is a tiered architecture. They don’t need other platforms, it’s a complete solution that takes less integration servicing to get a system running.”